Vice-chancellors have been pushing for university fees to be increased from Sh16,000 to Sh48,000 per year.
The universities have faced financial constraints after all students with C+ began receiving direct admission through the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS). There has been a consistent decline of the high-paying self-sponsored students, a fact that Prof Peter Mbithi, the University of Nairobi VC, attested to in an interview.
The situation is likely to worsen in the next four years as the first clique of students from the 100 percent transition policy join university. The institutions will be more populated than ever. The solution? Accommodate more students in the digital learning platforms.
In her book, The Making of a Cybertariat, Ursula Huws notes how improvement in technology has increased the number of freelancers working for many employers at a go. She also notes the high rate at which people are losing jobs due to the fast rate at which computer softwares are being replaced.
We cannot ignore the role of technology in the modern world. This explains the distance learning digital programmes in almost every local university, which are, however, underutilised.
The government has also discovered the role of technology in job creation and hatched the Ajira Digital programme in universities.
But technology has its demerits. In The End of Economics? Cristovam Buarque says inventions such as nuclear physics have ruined the environment. He says even Karl Marx could not predict that since he underestimated the evolution of technology and survival of capitalism.
But we now have a choice of using technology to reduce the cost of running universities. For instance, digital learning will require fewer lecturers and structures. A lecturer can teach an online class of more than 3,000 with only an internet-connected laptop; otherwise, we would require more than 20 lecturers and 20 classrooms.
Concurrently, we will reduce congestion in our institutions. If half of the students study from the comfort of their homes, costs will automatically reduce. After all, local universities have access to eduroam Wi-Fi.
Once learning fully goes digital, learners can get enough time to go for attachments.
Research by NACE International shows that employers attach more value to problem-solving skills, communication skills (both written and oral), internship experience, strong work ethic, leadership skills and technical skills, among others.
Entrepreneurial-oriented learners will also get enough time to develop their ventures as they pursue their courses.
It may be difficult to offer science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) courses online — save for units or modules that require little practical interaction with lecturers — but liberal arts and business courses can as their content is primarily theoretical.
Education is the engine of the Big Four Agenda. We should not compromise its accessibility but enhance it by making it cheaper through digital learning. The government should make internet services easily available throughout the country to ensure as many citizens as possible get an education.
Mr Kihu is an economist based in Nairobi. He is also the founder of ‘The Bizconomist’ business journal. [email protected]